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Eagles-only mock draft: Getting some help on defense

It’s the first time they’ve had three of the first 53 picks since 1994. And the first time they’ve had seven of the first 172 picks since 2011.

After adding 11 free agents over the past few weeks, GM Howie Roseman will continue to reshape the Eagles’ roster in the draft later this month.

The Eagles have eight picks for the first time since 2021, including one in the first round and two in the second. As of now. That can change. And probably will change.

But for now, here’s a look at our seven-round Eagles-only mock draft:

1-22: Kool-Aid McKinstry, CB, Alabama

I had the Eagles taking McKinstry in my initial mock draft a month ago, and it still makes sense, so instead of reinventing everything I’m sticking with him at No. 22. Not only do the Eagles have a need for an elite young cornerback, if they stay at No. 22 he could very well be one of the best players available, as well. So you’re filling a need while also sticking with the BPA philosophy, and when those two meet a pick has a very good chance to be successful. The Eagles have some interesting options at corner. Kelee Ringo and Eli Ricks did some good things as rookies, Isaiah Rodgers is coming aboard soon and 33-year-old Darius Slay is still pretty good. But the allure of a top, young corner in that mix might be too much to resist after the Eagles ranked 31st in the NFL in pass defense last year, allowing 35 touchdowns and picking off just nine passes. We all know the Eagles haven’t taken a 1st-round corner since Lito Sheppard in 2002, but McKinstry is a very smart, technically sound and athletic prospect at 6-foot, 200 pounds. He does have things to work on. Like just about every college corner, he needs to improve his work against the run and get less handsy in coverage. But it’s really time for the Eagles to address corner in the first round. They’ve gotten by with older, veteran corners for years and had a measure of success doing it that way. Their last outside corner 27 or younger to start eight games in a season was Ronald Darby in 2019, and the only outside corner that the Eagles drafted who’s been a regular starter since Lito and Sheldon Brown is Jalen Mills. The Eagles could probably get by with what they have at corner, but anybody who’s watched this team over the years knows what kind of impact an Eric Allen, Bobby Taylor, Troy Vincent, Lito Sheppard, Sheldon Brown, Asante Samuel or Slay can make. Adding McKinstry instantly makes this defense better.

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2-50: Jermaine Burton, WR, Alabama

The Eagles love guys from Georgia and Alabama and with Burton they can get both. Burton spent two years in Athens and two years in Tuscaloosa, finishing a solid but unspectacular college career with 132 catches for 2,376 yards – which is modest for four years – but with 23 touchdowns and an 18.0 average, and it’s those last two numbers that make you believe Burton can be a steal despite a lack of overwhelming numbers. He played in two offenses that were so deep nobody was getting a ton of targets, but when he got opportunities the production was there. Burton stands 6-foot, 220 pounds and he ran 4.45 at the Combine. He hasn’t played in a high-powered passing game, which means there’s a lot of upside and room to grow but it also means he has a lot to learn when it comes to complex route trees and pro-style offenses. But the traits are there for Burton to contribute immediately, and in an offense with A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith plus Dallas Goedert, he won’t be asked to be a WR1 or WR2 anytime soon. The Eagles need another weapon alongside the Big 3. The absence of another option beyond Brown, Smith and Goedert was glaring last year. Burton can give the Eagles some immediate juice in the mid-range and deep game while learning to become a well-rounded NFL receiver.

2-53: Payton Wilson, LB, North Carolina State

I know, I know. Maybe I’m nuts. But I think this is the year Roseman drafts a Day 2 linebacker. He’s done it before. Mychal Kendricks was the 46th player taken in the 2012 draft and he was a pretty good six-year starter here, including on the 2017 team. Yeah, that was 12 years ago, but the situations are similar. The cupboard is virtually bare at linebacker. Nakobe Dean hasn’t shown anything yet, Devin White is only here on a one-year deal and has had an up-and-down career. Ben VanSumeren has shown promise but is an untested undrafted player. There won’t be a linebacker taken in the first round this year, and if the Eagles can snag Wilson in the second round that would be huge. I know Jeremiah Trotter Jr. is the sentimental choice, and I get that, and he may become a very good player. But at 53 Wilson has great size at 6-4, 235 pounds, he ran a 4.43 at the Combine so he can fly, and he’s a playmaker who always finds himself around the football. He had 48 tackles for loss, 15 sacks, seven interceptions and six pass breakups in 47 games at N.C. State. He’s had some injuries, a couple ACLs, and that’s a concern, but if Roseman is going to draft a linebacker in the first two rounds for the first time in 12 years, Wilson is a good one.

4-120: Theo Johnson, TE, Penn State

Johnson’s receiving numbers weren’t huge in State College, but he caught 73 passes for 882 yards and 12 touchdowns the last three years. But he never really played in a high-powered offense and he’s got the size, speed and power to project as a legit weapon on the NFL level. Johnson has prototype tight end size at 6-foot-6, 260 pounds, and he crushed the combine, showing elite athleticism and ability. The one negative with Johnson is that despite his great size he’s not much of a blocker along the line of scrimmage, although as we saw with Dallas Goedert, that’s something that can be taught and developed. The Eagles don’t just need a TE2, they need a TE2 who could one day fairly soon become TE1. With Goedert now 29 and going into his seventh season and his production down a bit – his 10.0 yards per catch last year was lowest of his career and his 42 yards per game was his worst since 2019, Zach Ertz’s last big season – the Eagles need a tight end who can contribute from the jump with the possibility of becoming a starter in a year or two. Johnson could be that guy.

5-161: Walter Rouse, OT, Oklahoma

The Eagles could certainly snag an offensive tackle higher than the middle of the fifth round. With Lane Johnson turning 34 next month and no proven backups, it’s an underrated need. But the way things fell in this mock draft they addressed some other areas first, and Roseman and his staff have had success finding offensive linemen in the later rounds – Big V in the fifth round, Jason Kelce in the sixth round, Jordan Mailata in the seventh round – and when you have Jeff Stoutland on the staff, you feel confident that in a year or two he can turn just about anybody into a functional NFL player. Rouse is a 6-foot-6, 325-pound left tackle prospect who began at Stanford and finished at Oklahoma and was a very good pass blocker and decent run blocker at the college level and just needs to get stronger and improve his technique to deal with the explosive edge rushers he’ll see in the NFL. The kind of developmental player with a high ceiling that Stoutland can’t wait to work with.

5-171: James Williams, S-LB, Miami (Fla.)

With the first of their back-to-back 5th-round picks, the Eagles add a versatile defensive prospect who played safety at Miami but added some weight and transitioned to linebacker in time for the Senior Bowl and Combine, where he acquitted himself well. At 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, Williams has elite coverage skills and is a force against the run. Is he a safety? Is he a linebacker? The Eagles need both so I like the idea of getting him into the building and figuring out the best way to use him. His future is most likely as an off-ball linebacker and it may take him a while to really master the position after playing safety in Coral Gables. But his size, athleticism, wingspan and intelligence make him an intriguing prospect who should be a terrific special teamer as he continues to learn the linebacker position.

5-172: Layden Robinson, G-C, Texas A&M

Matt Hennessy gives the Eagles good depth in the interior offensive line behind starters Landon Dickerson, Cam Jurgens and potentially Tyler Steen. That’s a good start. But at some point during the draft they’ll add an interior lineman, and Robinson is the kind of guard-center project that Stout probably can’t wait to get his hands on. There’s an old scouting phrase – “looks good in a phone booth,” which means an offensive line has great power and strength but doesn’t move well. That fits Robinson. So he’s got some work to do. But Texas A&M has really developed into a breeding ground for NFL offensive linemen, with guys like 1st-round picks Cedric Ogbuehi, Kenyon Green and Germain Ifedi, 2nd-round selection Erik McCoy and later picks like Dan Moore and Jermaine Eluemunor. Robinson stands 6-foot-3, 305 pounds and was a three-year starter at A&M. Big, tough, stout guy with minus athleticism who has some traits that could eventually translate into production on the NFL level.

6-210: Jase McClellan, RB, Alabama

With Boston Scott unsigned, the Eagles don’t have any depth behind Saquon Barkley and Kenny Gainwell, and while you don’t expect them to use a premium pick on a running back, it makes sense in the later rounds, and McClellan is a good fit. Thanks to a middling Combine he’s not considered an elite prospect, but his production at the highest level makes him an interesting pick. McClellan didn’t get many opportunities early in his carer at Alabama. He was buried behind Najee Harris as a freshman, Brian Robinson as a sophomore and Jahmyr Gibbs as a junior but finally became the featured back this past season and averaged 4.9 yards on 180 carries with eight TDs as well as 15 receptions. In four years in Tuscaloosa, the 5-foot-11, 210-pound McClellan ran for 1,981 yards with a 5.6 average and 18 TDs and another 409 yards and six TDs as a receiver. He opened eyes with 87 rushing yards on 14 carries and two TDs in Alabama’s 27-20 overtime loss to Michigan at the Rose Bowl in the College Football Playoff semifinals.

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